“Church” Is Not an Institution, But a Movement

jesus_revolutionary

Years ago I was in Singapore eating dinner with Pastor Albert Kang, and we were talking about Christianity. Albert leaned over the table and said, “Christianity is a movement, not an institution.” That’s correct.

When I hear people say things like “church is boring” they are talking about the “institutional church,” not the real church. I’ve been on the inside of the institutional church, and it’s a struggle. The institutional church is political, bureaucratic, slow to move. Pastors and priests of institutional churches are viewed as butlers who are there to please parishioners.

The “church” we see in the New Testament was nothing like this. There, the word “church” meant a “people called out to follow after God,” rather than a “building.” “Church” has nothing to do with buildings. Some “churches” meet in buildings, but they don’t need to.

The real Church is like an army, ready and alert and on the move and flexible. “Church” is about people, not buildings or political institutions. The real Church is revolutionary; the institutional “church” is but a reflection of it’s culture’s institutions. Institutional churches “vote” on things, like what color the carpet should be in the nursery. (Institutional churches have split over that kind of thing!) I hate to burst your bubble about this, but the word “vote” only appears once in the actual Bible. It’s in Acts 26:9-11, when Paul talks about his former Christian-persecuting life and how he would “cast his vote” to punish Christians.

“Church” is not something you “go to” on Sundays. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are the “church.” How odd it is to say “I’m going to church today,” which is the equivalent of saying “I’m going to myself today.” Sounds a bit self-serving, doesn’t it? The next time someone asks you “Where’s your church at?”  just point to your own self. You are the church. This doesn’t change, even if you lose your building.

We are the church. Jesus is our Lord. Jesus is on a mission. The mission is about his kingdom, and introducing others to it. “Christians” are people who follow after Jesus. They don’t “vote” for Jesus; they follow him. In the process sex addicts get free of their addiction, prostitutes find the love of God, marriages get reconciled, drifters find a home, the homeless and hungry get cared for, children get to keep their biological parents, life takes on meaning, hope gets restored, paradigms gets shifted, and one discovers the glorious presence of God. Nothing can separate a person from that – not famine or nakedness or persecution or the economy or even death. That’s “church” as I see it. “Boring” is not the word to describe it.

Need prayer? Want some worship time?

pictures-11276

 

(Monroe)

Yesterday morning I taught my Preaching class at Redeemer Ministry School. In two weeks 16 of our RMS students will be preaching sermons on Tues. and Wed. mornings. I’m really looking forward to seeing how God works through these students.

After my class our worship leader Holly Benner taught her Worship class. From my office I heard our RMS students worshiping – loudly, joyfully, passionately. For a LONG time. I was greatly encouraged. I FELT encouraged. I was and still am encouraged.
 
Because of this I now encourage YOU. If you watch or read the media in these days there is a fair share of doom and gloom out there. An antidote? Worship and pray. Not just when things are going well, but when you’re in a dry place, even when you’re desperate, even if you became a prisoner locked in shackles by a foreign government like Paul was.
 
Anyone in need of a God-moment? Join me Saturday night. 6-8 PM. WIN (Worship Intercession Night).

Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe

 Let’s worship Him and lift up our prayers to Him. He’s still God, still on the throne.

Thinking About a Great Depression Can Lead to a Great Depression

time

In my last post I cited Philippians 4:8 , which reads: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Here is the idea that the things we think about (in the sense of pondering them and meditating on them) affect our whole being. Such as: much time spent playing violent video games and watching violent movies results in a reduction of helping behaviors. A recent University of Michigan study supports this. This does not mean that if one plays violent games and watches violent movies that one will be violent. The study does claim to show that “violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others.”

At Saturday’s nytimes.com there was an article of another kind that supports the Philippians 4:8 truth. It’s called:“Can Talk of a Depression Lead to One?” For example, thinking about the “Great Depression” “serves as a model for our expectations, damping what John Maynard Keynes called our “animal spirits,” reducing consumers’ willingness to spend and businesses’ willingness to hire and expand. The Depression narrative could easily end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Today “the Great Depression appears truly relevant, and many people have been spooked by the story.” The article claims that the Great Depression was itself “partly driven by the retelling of earlier depression stories.”

Forget for a moment the economic event called the “Great Depression” and think, but only briefly, about mental depression. As I have counseled many people over the years re. mood disorders. If they are followers of Jesus, I refer them to Philippians 4:8 ( if I think the origin of the person’s depression is clinical I do this and refer them to a good clinician). Because I and they believe the Bible contains God-inspired truths, I encourage them to carry a list of such truths around with them and think much on them in the sense of meditating on them. For me personally, and for many others I am familiar with, depression lifts. The recent cover story of Time magazine lends support to the idea that people who have a strong faith in God generally fare better when it comes to physical and mental health.

For me none of this is some merer “positive thinking” technique. I want truth. As I fill my heart and mind with things that I find good, true, noble, pure, and lovely, I believe God forms my heart in light of such things.

So in my church, as a pastor, I don’t want to bury my head in the sand re. the economic situation we now are in. I want to know which of my church family members are being hit by this and reach out to them and seek God re. helping them. And I’ll continue to place my hope and trust in the God who years ago tore me out of a life of drug-darkness, and communicate this to our church family. On Sunday mornings we’ll worship God for his greatness, love, and glory, and preach about the Real Jesus. I wonder what would happen in our community and country if we spent our days meditating on these things rather than meditating on the Great Depression?

Violent Video Games & Movies Reduce “Helping Behavior”

The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan reports that a study shows that “violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others.” Exposure to violent media produces “physiological desensitization” and reduces “helping behavior.” “People exposed to media violence are less helpful to others in need because they are ‘comfortably numb’ to the pain and suffering of others, to borrow the title of a Pink Floyd song.”
“People who had played a violent game took significantly longer to help the victim than those who played a nonviolent game—73 seconds compared to 16 seconds. People who had played a violent game were also less likely to notice and report the fight. And if they did report it, they judged it to be less serious than did those who had played a nonviolent game.”
In Philippians 4:8 we read: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Here is the idea that the things we think about affect our whole being. Some video games and movies are extended meditations on evil and gratuitous suffering. In significant respects we are what we think. Many of us have long thought that this was true. Now U-M gives empirical data to support this.

Breaking Free From Mediocrity

pictures-11288

(The River Raisin)

Today I spoke to our ministry school students about breaking free from a culture of mediocrity. I challenged them, not to compare themselves with others or try to be better than others, but to do their best in the things God has called them to do. Paul told his young mentoree Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:15)

This morning I led worship at our church from 9 – 9:30 AM. There was a handful of people there. I’ve played and performed before several thousand, and in front of a few. Every time I do something like this I give it my all, my very best. In this regard numbers mean nothing. Why? Because, as a God-believer and follower of Jesus, whatever I do I do before, not people, but an audience of One; viz., before God. Long ago I learned that God gives it all for me; therefore I am to give my very best back to God. Have I done this every time? No. But every day of my life, whether I meet with people helping them or leading worship or teaching or being a husband, my goal is to give it my best.

In my MCCC philosophy of religion classes I give oral exams. Students meet with me personally, I ask them questions about the materials covered in class. This way I can find out if they really have studied the stuff. One time one of my students who was a Christian walked in to the oral exam. They were carrying a Bible. They hadn’t studied. I failed them. I found myself  wishing they didn’t walk around carrying a Bible if they weren’t going to work hard and do their best at whatever God has called them to do. In short, the question for that kind of person is: has God called you to be in college? If the answer is “yes,” then act like it. Otherwise, it’s an embarrassment. At least, I felt embarrassed by that kind of mediocrity. I told them “I’m expecting a lot more out you – you’re better than that.”

I meet some Christians who want to do big things for God but could care less about excellence in all the small things of life. I don ‘t think God’s going to entrust them with big things unless they do their best in all the small things God calls them to do. And I won’t trust them with responsibility either. God is looking for servants. In servanthood, size doesn’t matter. Watch out for Christians who want to do big stuff for Jesus but won’t do the dishes in their own home.

I don’t want my students to be mediocre. Again, this has nothing to do with being “the best”; it’s all about doing your best for Jesus. In everything he calls you to do.

By the way, that Christian student looked at me after I told them”you just failed this exam,” and they said: “I’m not going to disappoint you the next time.” Good. More than that, I don’t want them to disappoint the God who sent his Son to bleed and die so that this student might live.

Some families, some environments, breed mediocrity. If that’s the culture you grew up in or now live in, choose to break free from that. You won’t need to rationalize the mediocrity any more. God wants you to love him with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s where the real blessings lie.

The Atheist Bus Campaign

god_bus_0206

(I just posted this on my more academic website. I thought I’d try it here as well. johnpiippo.com)

I heard about the atheist bus ad campaign a long time ago. Today’s it’s made Time magazine.

800 London buses have ads that read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Atheist Ariane Sharine, who came up with the idea, says: “Our campaign provides reassurance for people who might be agnostic and don’t quite believe, and worry what will happen to them if they don’t.”

Three Christian groups in London are countering with their own bus-ad campaign. The article says:

“Similar atheist campaigns have run in Barcelona, Madrid and Washington, D.C. But since its January 6 launch, the London scheme has been credited with inspiring atheist bus campaigns in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Italy, where next month posters in Genoa will read: “The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him.””

Atheist Richard Dawkins says: “I don’t object at all to the Christian ads that are going up, especially if they make people think. If more people think for themselves, we’ll have fewer religious people.”

Hmmm… just the opposite happened to me. I began to finally think, and the result was I became a follower of Jesus.

Then, I changed my undergraduate studies to philosophy. I loved thinking about the big issues of life, and for me at that time to major in philosophy was the best option. It challenged me to think a lot more, and to think deeply about things like meaning and knowledge and truth and right and wrong and personhood. This deeper thinking resulted in my thinking that my choice to follow Jesus was the right life-choice. 38 years later, after a whole lot of “deep thought,” I’m grateful I chose to follow after Jesus.

The deep thinking of philosophy brought me, of course, face-to-face with atheism. One can’t study philosophy without looking at all the best alternatives. Currently, my thinking includes viewing real atheism as philosophical naturalism (PN). On PN issues of right and wrong and truth and knowledge and meaning and personhood become logically inconsequential; viz., one can’t derive non-empirical value-judgments from the empiricist philosophy of PN.

For me, the idea of an atheist “campaigning” for the “truth” of her worldview and against the “delusion” of theism is weird. Consider, e.g., Bertrand Russell’s famous statement about atheism.

“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

Russell then attempts to say one must build one’s life on “the scaffolding” of this worldview. Of course, if atheism is true, that’s the only alternative. But remember that Russell thought, even though Nature was “omnipotent yet blind,” that persons were “free.” On PN-studies today, that is extremely questionable. When I was introduced to Russellian atheism I then studied French existentialist atheism, esp Camus and Sartre, and read Kafka and Nietzsche and watched Ingmar Bergman films. On those forms of atheism “campaigning” for the “truth” of atheism either doesn’t happen because life is meaningless anyway, or does happen but, upon “thinking,” seems “absurd,” even makes one “nauseous.” (Sartre) If atheism is true there’s a lot of “bad news” and little “good news.” The bad news is that God does not exist. The bad news is also that without God life has no meaning. The bad news is probably that “thinking” is but the neural activity of the physical brain. The bad news is that my last sentence cannot be verified on PN. The good news is that an atheist need not feel bad about any of this. The bad news is that “feeling good and feeling bad” have nothing to do with meaning and truth. James Brown was right and he was wrong when he sang, “I feel good, like I knew that I would.”

Perhaps the atheistic bus campaign is but an epiphenomenon of physical neural activity? If so, pay no attention to it, realizing that “paying attention to anything” is probably impossible (aka the problem of first-person subjective experience). Just a thought.

Eugene Peterson (and Jesus) Are Subversives

eugene-peterson

Eugene Peterson, the kind-bearded translator of the Bible into The Message, is a subversive. (Jesus was too.) One has to watch out, or his thoughts will get into you, planted like seeds, one day to emerge out of your heart making you think – where did that come from?

I read a lot of books at one time. I like to go slowly through them, absorbing them, slow-cooking the ideas. One of the books I’m slow-cooking now is Peterson’s The Jesus Way. Here’s one of his radical ideas (“radical,” from Latin radix, meaning “root,” from which we derive “radish”; a “radical” gets at the root of things).

“Unfortunately, the more popular American church strategies in respect to congregation are not friendly to the local and the personal. The American way with its penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions denigrates the local, and its programmatic ways of dealing with people erode the personal, replacing intimacies with functions. The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way. For Christians who are serious about following Jesus by understanding and pursuing the ways that Jesus is the Way, this deconstruction of the Christian congregation is particularly distressing and a looming distraction from the way of Jesus.” (5)

Yes, and of course. Read those words slowly. Observe American “Christianity,” not to brutalize it, but to gain wisdom as how to get those Christians delivered. Alongside this read the original Jesus texts – M, M, L, & J. Note the cognitive dissonance. Choose the real Jesus over the American Jesus. Give thanks for the real thing; pray for the Babylonian Captivity of the American Church.

Agonizing and Organizing

monroe-flowering-tree

 

(Monroe – in warmer times)

 

I much enjoyed reading the biography of Jim Rayburn, written by Rayburn’s son. He was not a perfect man – who is? BUt there were some elements in his life that tell me he was a follower of the Real Jesus. Here’s one.

 

“Jim was not an organizer, but an agonizer, frequently spending more time in prayer than in his office. He felt that the “Christian” church had a woeful shortage of agonizers. “Christian organizations,” as well, are loaded to the brim with organizers: time-management specialists, fund raisers, public relations experts, administrative experts, every kind of expert, but sometimes few, or maybe none, of God’s anointed.” (From Bondage to Liberty, 56-57)

The Central Message of the Real Jesus Is…

flamingos

 

(Flamingos at San Diego Zoo)

Michael McClymond, in his book Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth, writes:

“The central proclamation of Jesus was the kingly reign of God… Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God was not only central to his teaching but pivotal for understanding the various aspects of his life and ministry… The theme of God’s kingdom or reign leads directly into all the enduring issues concerning Jesus – his understanding of God, the significance of his miracles, the parable and other sayings, his call to repentance and gathering together of followers, his fellowship with “sinners,” the opposition he faced, the death he endured, the claim that he rose from the dead, and the way he understood himself… Every presentation of the life and ministry of Jesus may be judged by the way in which the kingdom of God is understood.” (67)

No doubt this is correct. Just read the original sources and one can’t escape this conclusion. The key to understanding the Real Jesus is the kingdom of God. Conversely, turn on the TV and surf the Christian programs and the Real Jesus is, at times, totally unrecognizable. The solution? Turn off the TV and return to the 4 gospels.

Divorce – The Kids Will NOT Be OK

divorce

I meet all the time with young adults whose biological parents have separated or divorced. Almost always, there’s devastation. I also meet with people who say they are thinking about divorce. They’ve picked up the idea that if they divorce the “kids will be OK.” That is false. It’s just their way of trying to justify their own inability to work through their failing marriage. (In my opinion there are only a few, and they are rare, exceptions to this.  A lot of couples simply do not have the tools to fix their marriage. Increasingly we should not be surprised by this, since the current parentless generation is spawning teens who have never seen a healthy marriage before. Unless something transformational happens in them they will mirror their parents’ failures.)

The best book I’ve found about this is by Columbia U scholar Judith Wallenstein – The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. She’s done what may be the only longitudinal study of what happens to kids whose parents divorced, and she follows these kids into adulthood. Anyone contemplating divorce who thinks “The kids will be OK” needs to read this book so that myth will be shattered.

“By tracking approximately 100 children as they forge their lives as adults, she has found that contrary to the popular belief that kids would bounce back after the initial pain of their parents’ split, children of divorce often continue to suffer well into adulthood. Their pain plays out in their relationships, their work lives and their confidence about parenting themselves.”